Tuesday, November 01, 2011

New Biography: Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean. Most of us who remember the exploits of the heroic German Shepherd Rin Tin Tin are thinking about the T.V. star of the 1950s and the endless 1960s reruns, productions that starred the umpteenth avatars of the original Rin Tin Tin, the original dashing movie star of the 1920s who captured the bad guys in movies like Clash of the Wolves and Jaws of Steel. In fact, by all rights, Rin Tin Tin should go down in film history as the first recipient or the best actor Oscar. At the first Academy Awards presented in 1929 Rin Tin Tin won the vote for best actor. The Academy, concerned that the newly instituted awards might not be taken seriously, decided instead to award the Oscar to the now more obscure Emil Jannings.

Or course, it doesn’t really matter if Rin Tin Tin became a franchise or not. Sure we would like to think, like Lassie, that we were watching the exploits of the same dog, but what is more important to us is the sustained character of the dog, the consistent and enduring anthropomorphic values to we ascribe to his actions and exploits, and so we are willing to make the necessary suspension of disbelief in this matter, to give the dog a sort of eternal life in our imaginations. Orlean explores the history of Rin Rin Tin as a popular phenomenon, and the “real” and often mundane, or just plain odd stories, behind the legend. Readers will find particularly engaging the encounters with contemporary slightly deranged Rin Tin Tin aficionados. This is a fascinating story not only of the history of Rin Tin Tin but a story about how legends were born in popular culture of the 20th century.

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